My son is six and a half.
Way back when, way back then,
he couldn’t find his words.
The same is true now.
It’s called anomia.
We all have it to a certain degree.
It’s when you say, “Can you give me that, um, that…. um…” and you snap your fingers until you remember the word for pencil.
This happens to my son in his every sentence. For all of his life, he has understood every word anyone has said to him. But he often cannot retrieve the language to reply. He knows what he wants to say, and his words fail him.
He is smart. Every expert has agreed: oh, there is knowledge inside that boy. Deep knowledge.
Yesterday, he said, “Mommy, can you write my name on my football so it doesn’t get lost? And can you write it on the red part, because if you write on the black part, then… then… then… (insert long pause)… then the letters will … will be… (insert second pause) … be camouflaged.”
He is an expert at synonyms. He couldn’t think of the phrase “won’t show up,” so instead he danced around the idea until he found the word ‘camouflaged.’
This, at 76-1/2, is where Tim is now. It’s called Alzheimer’s.
Looking back, I realize how anxious Tim has been for a long time. Remembering is hard work for someone struggling to stay afloat in the sea of dementia, getting at a missing word by elaborate descriptions and substitutes–and struggling to cover up not being able to remember is even harder.
It affects everything. He was confused about medications, walking all the way to the pharmacy to try to convince the staff he needed refills for prescriptions he already had on his bathroom counter. He has been constantly frustrated with his computer not doing “what it used to do back in the 20th century.”
The biggest tip-off should have been that when we had him up for a movie night (sometimes I called it “dinner theatre,”) he would propose to our single friends. I was on the phone with one of them, about his age, inviting her to join us when Tim asked me to hand him my phone so he could speak to her.
“Will you marry me?” he greeted her. “I need a wife. Or a wet nurse.” (I don’t think he really meant “wet.”) “Someone to take care of me.”
She laughed and said, “I’m not the marrying kind.” Years before, she had been on the receiving end of a bad divorce.
A much younger woman, the one who has been living with us since September, he didn’t propose to directly. He just told us privately she was really nice and he’d like to marry her.
I see now that was his way of saying, “Help!”